Ai did that--More on the passing of Ai
I'll miss Ai. I'll miss her impact on the poetry world. I'll miss her danger. A lot of folks have been sharing their Ai anecdotes. I don't have many anecdotes to share you, but what I do have, I'll share. I know this--there are a lot of rumors about her and the mythology of Ai add to her as a compelling an artist and as a mind. Some things that get lost--she was funny. She was kind. She was a flirt. She could own a room just by walking in. She loved her jewelry and she loved showing off her jewelry, her turquoise. Fire and grace--pure flamenco.
Back when I was in the last year of my graduate studies, Ai had come back to Phoenix after living who knows where for a time. I was a student in the MFA program at Arizona State University. I had a big car and was often picked to drive people around. If you've never been to the Phoenix area, let me tell you that it's sprawling so these drives took awhile. There are no brief drives from one locale to another, plus there's quite a bit of traffic. So the MFA program coordinator at the time asked me to get in touch with Ai who had been calling the ASU MFA offices asking for rides. Because of my big car, I got picked to drive Ai from her apartment to a community college where she was giving a reading. Much of my experience with Ai was spent driving and we didn't talk about poetry. We talked about silly things like television commericals, celebrity, shopping. Anyway, I came to find out that I was supposed to read at the community college as well, and I was lucky that I had one of my workshop folders in my car. Somehow my name got included on the reading bill as well. Ai did that.
I remember she had this gigantic bag she carried around with her. At the reading she started pulling out all of her books and, knowingly, she said "This is where I become a huckster." Lovely. Also, during that car ride back from the reading, she talked to me about how tired she was from being on the road and giving all these readings. I've mentioned this before--I thought she was just being a little spoiled, but now that I've been on a few book tours, her wisdom and her weariness is all the more apparent. What did I know?
Later, Ai invited Sue Allspaw and I to hear the late, great, Lucille Clifton read at the University of Arizona. Additionally, there was a dinner after the reading and we were invited to that as well. Ai did that, too. Always the two poets, Clifton and Ai, have been wedded in my mind because of this frame of reference. I think of Clifton's "Kali" poems whenever I read Ai's poems. Darkness and Light. How necessary they both were to the landscape of my own writing.
So strange that Lucille Clifton and Ai passed on dates relatively near to each other.
The real magic of Ai, her ability to capture the mind--the intellect of the wicked, the despicable--to traverse the darkness of the human psyche and allow for moments of empathy. Magic. Ai did that.
A link to her obituary is here: http://english.okstate.edu/home/index.htm